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JEAN RUITER PROJECT / Archive and Stock Sales photoworks Jean Ruiter
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43 / Maya and Aztecs / 1990
01 / Violence infiniti / 1990
02 / Mother of the Gods / 1990
03 / Maya Rite / 1990
04 / Tears of the Ancestors / 1990
05 / Indian / 1990
06 / The forest is crying and so do I / 1990
07 / Homage to Getrude Blom / 1990
08 / Indian Holy Mountain / 1990

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Related Text:
Maya and Aztecs by Dr. Reinhold Miszelbeck

Maya and Aztecs
Essay by Dr. Reinhold Miszelbeck

In his 1969 paper "From Imitation to Reality", Werner Hofmann expressed the view that the departure from the idea of the picture as a likeness, a pseudo reality, resulted in a heightened significance of art. Art's future lay beyond the fixation on panel painting and illusionism. In those days, there was no mention yet of photography. But the trends of the past twenty-five years leave the impression that this medium should now be fully included in the developments defined by Werner Hofmann. Gottfried Jdger's more recent research may also be taken to confirm Hofmann's views for the field of photographic art.
Against the background of the history of photography,though, this development seems contradictory in principle. For in the last century, photography first set out to fulfil people's demand for images which faithfully reproduced every detail. The fascination created by this invention was based in the main on the ability of the photographic medium to render real-life subjects more precisely than any painter, draughtsman or engraver in an exact and unadulterated fashion. It thereby freed painting from this task and promoted the release of fine arts from assignments of service and functionality towards an art centred on the personality of the artist, on his feeling and thinking. In middle-class society, it was photography which henceforth served traditional topics like social portraits, genre pictures, architectonic surveying pictures, landscapes, and historical events. From these developed, over the years, photospecific topics and specialisations.

In view of these topical divisions, the inclusion of photography in considerations towards "picture-creating photography" as Gottfried Jdger calls this new trend, seems at first somewhat misguided. However, even Picturalism has to be understood as an attempt to distance oneself from given applications and to free the photographic medium of the constraints of precise likenesses. The beginning of this century saw a countermovement with the arrival of Straight Photography which simultaneously opened the way for an artistic development independent of models from the fine arts. Photographic Constructivism and New Vision opened up a new way of seeing reality and thus for the first time, a perspective for photography to be, like paintings and drawings, an expression of the perceptions of the photographer rather than copies of reality.

But this still seems to remain a paradox. For no matter how one holds the camera, or whatever it is focused on, the technical process of capturing on film what is in front of the lens will remain the same. In this sense, photography seems unable to detach itself from the principle of depicting reality. However, photographers noticed that in spite of this persistent, technically determined depictive quality, it was nonetheless possible for photography to show what had not been seen before. At that moment, the illustration is no less a new reality than Malevich's newly created reality of a black square on a black background.

The underlying principle had already been demonstrated by Edward Muybridge in his visual research. His sequences of movement showed something entirely different from what people believed to know through the use of their eyes. He thus already proved that ultimately, photochemistry and photo optics capture something the eye is unable to see.
Man, as photography shows ever more clearly, does not perceive a copy of nature; he sees selectively, including what he already knows, which changes his perception. Much of what we see is not admitted by the brain, is changed, emphasised, or toned down. Finally, the pictures stored in the brain are also subject to change in the course of time,so that the confrontation of a picture stored in the brain with a photograph taken of that event at the same time, can be quite a surprise. Over the decades, photography has given us a great many insights into the way we see, while an artistically aspiring photography has developed in equal measure, strategies to illustrate these contradictions ever more clearly in its works.
Artistic, picture-creating photography, then, is based foremost on the paradox which consists in mundane photography and its clichis on the one hand, and our mode of perception with its associated social, psychological, physical and physiological restrictions. The notion of photography as faithful reproduction makes these contradictions all the more apparent.

One method is to choose the viewing angle, position and illumination or detail so as to make the familiar look strange, to make visible the unfamiliar in well-known things and situations, sometimes past recognition. Another method is to change the object before the camera, to build sets which in themselves are invented realities. The first method changes perception, the second, the perceived. The photographic technique merely records.

Jean Ruiter cannot be wholly identified with either trend. On the one hand, he uses photographs whose purely depictive function is obvious, on the other hand, he also employs fragmentary, hard to decipher snippets of reality which are imparted by means of photography. Indeed, it is for this that he uses photography in his photographic work: to substitute reality. Then again, he combines this with real elements, with arrow heads and feathers as in his Mexican series, with cloth and plastic tubes, glass, wood and metal.
In his compositions from these elements, Jean Ruiter is indeed an artist who sets the stage, who first creates what he then records on film, and who creates it solely for the purpose of being photographed. In this, his work may be compared to that of the criminologist or archeologist who assembles a variety of found objects from which he deduces the actual context. He is not reconstructing reality in an epic form which would allow the observer to visualise it in every detail, but pares it down and identifies it with signs and symbols perceptible by the senses. This adds another element, namely the level of awareness of the viewer, without whose fund of memories the images would be indecipherable. His appeal, with a system of signs, to the existing knowledge of the viewer allows the links within the staged pictures and between the elements of a cycle to emerge.

With his short cycles on a variety of topics, as for instance: Middle-European Culture, The Image of Woman, Cathedrals in the Desert, Japan, Urbane Opera, Turkish Journey, Physical Culture, Jean Ruiter creates photographic sketches of the spirit of the age and their interrelations within one's own history, with other cultures, with one's self, with the way of life. The aim is not systematic analysis, but spotlights which in sum, however, grow into a complex interrelated whole.

In his eight picture cycle "Maya, Aztecs, and the Rainforest" he addresses a dark chapter in European imperialistic politics which must be deemed an equally dark chapter in an imperialist Church. Plate 1 refers to the destruction of the Mayan and Aztec civilisations and puts it in topical context with the current destruction of local rain-forests. Plate 2 links elements of Maya and Aztec culture with the text: "The Forest is crying and so do I", plate 3 shows a Mayan ritual, a dialogue with the second soul of man which dwells in the rain-forest, the fourth picture symbolises the rain dance of Maya warriors which was performed adorned with red feathers, the fifth combines daggers and blood-red body fragments to indicate the Aztec sacrifice of hearts, the sixth picture symbolises the Mother of the Gods with the names of individual deities, the seventh shows an overview of destroyed cultural monuments on a geographic background, and the eighth confronts an Aztec warrior with a Panamanian politician of the opposition. The work refers to religious, cultural, political and historic aspects of the destruction of South American civilisations by the European politics of conquest without suppressing its links to the present, to political decline and progressive economic exploitation. In his works, Jean Ruiter combines objects, colour, photographs, reproductions, acting persons and television pictures, rearranges them in new constellations and takes photographs of these installations, thereby creating with simple means, references which could otherwise only be conveyed in extensive discourses. A chapter of recent history is thus thrown into relief, comes alive and enters a dialogue with the other topics he has chosen.

Jean Ruiter's methods are confrontation and dialogue. In this, all materials he employs, whether objects, colour, prints, photographs or performance art, are of equal value to him.
He reorganises them into a new whole, using them as documents or as substitutes for reality. He makes use of established modes of perception in order to effect a new, associative vision. Jean Ruiter's work testifies to a strong interest in history, not as a closed chapter, but as a vital part of our present whose influence we have to realise in order to take it into account for today's decisions. The language of his pictures is not the narrative, but the metaphor, his thinking is not mono-causalistic, but associative. From numerous individual sequences of pictures, his exhibition project has gradually developed into the subject before us, "Exploring Cultures - Sites and Darksides", and individual topics only gradually grew into a comprehensive reflection on the history of civilisation. The destruction of the economic, cultural and religious identity of the Maya and Aztecs has irrevocably changed the world, and with it Europe. A reflection on European culture is impossible without a reflection on such losses. Owing to its complexity and associative approach, Jean Ruiter's exhibition project has to be understood not as the sum of individual topics, but as an integral work. That he does not reconstruct contexts in the manner of an archaeologist, that we are instead dealing with constructs, does not affect the truth of the whole but assists clarity and potency. Instead, Jean Ruiter's project offers a chance, through confrontation with the memory of the viewer, to trigger constructive thought, possibly even action. Jean Ruiter's method of projecting the complexity of the history of civilisation into the spatially limited world of metaphoric symbols simultaneously opens an opportunity for unlimited reflection.